Savannah’s riverfront has been at the center of its history since the city was founded in 1733. Today, tourism is the mainstay of River Street (and much of Savannah’s economy). Once, though, when Savannah was a major southern port, it was shipping and the export of rice, and later cotton, that provided Savannah with its trade and wealth.
Now, River Street offers a pleasant promenade along the river, taking in the historic buildings and the view over the water and Hutchinson Island, with shops, restaurants and bars along the way. Many aspects of Savannah’s history can still be seen in the buildings and monuments along River and Bay Streets.
River Street is one of the busiest streets in Savannah. Partly this is because it is the place where a lot of things are happening: riverfront Rousakis Plaza is the venue for dozens of events and festivals, from the monthly fireworks displays to annual events such as Oktoberfest or St Patrick’s Day and the city’s 4th of July celebrations.
Outside of the biggest events, the waterfront promenade is also a draw, with views over the Savannah River. If you don’t feel like walking, you can take a free historic streetcar up and down the mile-long street, or a free ferry over to Hutchinson Island.
Many of Savannah’s biggest hotels are located on or near to River Street, where there is also a concentration of restaurants and bars – popular with pub crawlers or for an evening riverside drink – and the sort of shops you will want if you are looking to buy a souvenir of your trip or a gift to take back home.
Oglethorpe Bench Early in 1733, a group of colonizers led by James Oglethorpe landed at a spot beneath a high bluff on the Savannah River, chosen as the site for their new settlement. A place just to the west of present-day City Hall, on Bay Street, is believed to be where Oglethorpe pitched his tent on that first night. In 1906, the Georgia Society of Colonial Dames placed a bench to commemorate the spot.
African-American Monument Savannah’s legacy of slavery and the contribution of African-Americans to the prosperity and culture of the city is commemorated by this recent monument on Rousakis Plaza. Read more about the monument and its history
River Street Warehouses The southern side of River Street is lined with historic former warehouse buildings and offices of Savannah’s factors, traders and merchants, today mostly occupied by restaurants and souvenir stores. These buildings were once the premises of the people who dealt in the cotton and rice – and slaves – which made Savannah wealthy.
On the River Street side, the buildings connected with the docks and wharves from which Savannah’s busy trade as a port was conducted. On Bay Street, several stories above the level of River Street, were the offices.
Factors’ Walk The discrepancy between the river level and the city level gives these former warehouse buildings one of Savannah’s most interesting and architecturally-distinctive features: numerous footbridges connecting the city-height stories of the warehouses to Bay Street, with the street at river level below them.
The area is named Factors’ Walk for the factors (agents dealing with the sale of cotton on behalf of growers) who used these bridges as an easier way to get to the city level from their River Street establishments.
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Cotton Exchange This distinctive red brick building on Bay Street, opposite Drayton Street, was built to house the cotton traders who worked along the Riverfront. It is now a Masonic lodge.
Emmet Park Savannah’s Irish formed a large part of the labor at the docks, many of them living on the city’s eastern side. East-side residents used this small park for their evening and weekend recreation since the mid-19th century. It contains several historic relics and memorials. More about Emmet Park
World War II Monument This memorial, on River Street just west of City Hall, honors residents of Chatham County who served in the Second World War. It is officially named “A World Apart.” More about the WWII Monument
Savannah’s riverfront was an important site in the United States war effort. The city was one of only a few places selected for the construction of Liberty Ships, and also for the shipment of military goods and supplies.
Anchor monument This monument, erected in 1976, commemorates the lives of merchant sailors lost at sea. It is located on River Street opposite the intersection with Abercorn.
Waving Girl Statue Also connected with Savannah’s shipping trade is one of its favorite pieces of folk history. This statue, located in little Morrell Park at the eastern end of River Street, commemorates Florence Martus. For more than 40 years, Martus met and waved to every ship that sailed up the Savannah River, earning her the name “The Waving Girl.” More about Florence Martus and her monument
The River Street Visitor Information Center is at 1 West River Street near to City Hall and the Hyatt Regency, where there is also an elevator down to the waterfront.
River Street runs for more than a mile along the southern bank of the Savannah River, at the very northmost point of Savannah and its Historic District. The parts of the street that most people will want to visit lie between Martin Luther King Boulevard on the west to East Broad Street on the east.
You can drive along River Street, but only in one direction, west to east. On the main stretch of the street, several access ramps connect Bay Street to River Street: just west of Barnard Street; at Drayton Street; and just west of East Broad Street (one-way, off River Street). Some roads leading northwards off Bay Street loop right back without reaching the river, so be sure to take one of the right ones.
There are several small parking lots on River Street itself, near the Barnard and Abercorn Street ramps, but spaces can be hard to find during busy periods. You may be able to find free spaces in the evenings and on weekends.
Much larger capacity city-owned parking garages are located at Whitaker Street, near Ellis Square, and at Bryan Street, near Reynolds Square. The Bryan Street garage is cheaper. More information about parking and charges in Savannah.
If you are walking, it is much easier to get down to the river level, with staircases at Barnard, Bull, Abercorn and East Broad Streets in addition to the ramps. There is also an elevator at the Visitor Center, behind City Hall. Savannah’s free Express Shuttle connects with River Street (from Bay Street at the eastern end and otherwise from Bryan Street) near several of these points. You will have to walk 2-3 blocks from the stop.
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The River Street Shuttle can transport you up and down the waterfront. The service is free, and operates Thursday-Sunday, 12pm-9pm. See this map for the location of stops, along with connections to Savannah’s other free transport services. This service is temporarily suspended.
For the best views of River Street, take the free ferry over to Hutchinson Island. The Savannah Belles Ferry is a daily no-fare service connecting River Street to Hutchinson Island, with landing points on River Street near to City Hall and the Waving Girl Statue, and on Hutchinson Island near the Trade Center. A map of the route and landings can be seen here.
The ferry operates on a 20-30 minute schedule, depending on time of day. Services between the City Hall and Hutchinson Island landings operate from 7am-12:30am, and from the Waving Girl landing from 8am-6pm. Each leg of the trip takes around 10 minutes. The ferry schedule is available here.